For years oil companies' poor maintenance of Nigerian oil infrastructure including leaking pipelines has devastated the country's Bayelsa State in the Niger Delta.
A Dutch appeals court has now ruled that the Nigerian branch of oil giant Shell is responsible for damage caused by leaks. The court ordered Shell Nigeria to pay compensation to Nigerian farmers, while the subsidiary and its Anglo-Dutch parent company were told to install equipment to prevent future damage. In this regard, the Court underscored the importance of installing a a leak detection system to one pipeline to prevent further spills.
The four farmers who launched the case - Barizaa Dooh, Elder Friday Alfred Akpan, Chief Fidelis A Oguru and Alali Efanga - said the leaks from underground oil pipelines had cost them their livelihoods by contaminating land and waterways. Mr Efanga and Mr Dooh have died since the case was first filed in 2008 so their sons pursued the case instead.
While no specific sum of compensation was mentioned, observers believe it will be significant. In a similar case in 2005, Shell agreed to an $84m (£60m) deal for fishermen in the Bodo community, though the settlement was divided between thousands of residents of the Niger Delta and when it eventually got to each of them it did not amount to much.
Shell's Nigerian subsidiary, Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Ltd., maintains that spills were caused by sabotage, which could reduce its liability. But the appeals court ruled that Shell has not proved that claim "beyond reasonable doubt."